Olivia kept her claws out, taking a cautious step around the trio of grey suited agents standing in the middle of the lair. The others remained scattered around. Rob began drifting towards the gun cases, while Ben crept up on the suits behind Cyrus. The other dragon people, Red, Beth, and Hank, had claws and wings out as well. Olivia kept an ear for any hissing directed at each other or the grey suits. Just leave us alone.
“We deal with problems. And you could very well be a problem. A big one,” Smith, the woman at the head of the grey suits, said to Cyrus.
Cyrus raised an eyebrow. “When have I ever been a problem for you? No, unless you truly start angering me, I’m not a problem.”
“Your history shows otherwise.” Smith sighed. “Look, we appreciate your help. But you’ve made our bosses very nervous. You’ve never been the most predictable of people.”
“So I should apologize for existing, it seems,” Cyrus said.
“Not an apology. Right here, right now, we need to know what you’re doing.”
“I was asleep, at least until a large person was thrown on top of me,” he said, casting Olivia an aside glance. Sorry. Red was just… “Today I was meaning to visit a friend in Florida, then take a visit to China.”
“China,” repeated Smith.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to elaborate.”
The two grey suits behind Smith kept their drawn weapons pointed to the floor, though they kept their feet apart in a ready stance. Beth, at least, had calmed down some, though she kept her narrowed eyes on the grey suits. Ben, Rob, Olivia, and Miya had formed a half circle around them.
“Overlord detonated a nuclear weapon in Venezuela,” said Cyrus. “That might very well force the Siberians to act.” Wait, Siberia is super far away from Venezuela, right? Or am I misremembering again?
If Smith had noticed Olivia or the others, she made no sign of it. She readjusted the silver watch on her wrist and said, “I’m curious. Why should I believe you would just give us your schedule?”
“Because I’m assuming there are very large guns pointed at this building right now, ready to level it the moment your teleporter gets you out of here. These young men and women don’t deserve to have their home destroyed on my account.”
Miya and Beth cast nervous glances at the walls. I don’t hear or smell anything outside. Cyrus let the silence hang for a moment, then continued, calm as ever, “If you’re so knowledgeable about my history, you know I tend to disappear after making a scene. I find no joy in it.”
Smith considered him for a moment. Don’t do something dumb. “Fine then,” said Smith. “I can’t argue that. I’ll let my bosses know. Don’t do that sandstorm thing again and you’ll never hear from us again.”
“Wait,” spoke up Olivia. As the grey suits turned to her, she gathered her thoughts. OK. It’s just a question. “There was another one of us,” she said, pointing to herself and Red. “She, um, she ran away when we let her out. Did anyone find her. Do you know where she is?”
Smith looked around at Red, Hank, and Beth. “That was actually a secondary reason for us coming here. There were reports of others like you. All of you are accounted for, now.”
Answer the question. “Do you know where she is?” repeated Olivia.
“She’s in custody. She’s in good hands. And before you all do anything stupid, no, she’s not going to the research institute in Houston.” Cyrus stepped aside, leaving Smith and Olivia with a clear line of sight to each other.
Olivia uncurled her hands. “What?” she demanded. “Let her go.”
“No.” Just as Olivia opened her mouth to argue, Smith said, “And I don’t remember saying it was up for debate.”
“No, no, you can’t-”
“Alright, Blackjack,” said Smith with a shake of her head. The agents vanished.
Olivia let out a snarl at the now empty space. Get back here.
Ben teleported to her as she marched for the door. “Little Bird, that ain’t worth it,” he said, nearly hanging off of her arm.
Olivia stopped and stared down at him. “How could you say that?” she asked.
“Riskin’ all out necks for someone we don’t even know? Come on, you four barely get along as is. You think addin’ another of ya will do any good? Hell, you just threw Red onto Cyrus. Another of you an’ I don’t think the rest of us would make it out in one piece.”
Olivia turned to Cyrus. “Could you-”
“Start a war with the US? No,” he said, cutting her off with a shake of his head. “You have helped me, and I am grateful for that, but you’re asking too much.”
“She was feral, Olivia,” spoke up Amanda. “Look at Hank. They’re not clones of you. She might try to kill us.”
Olivia felt her wings slump. We should still do something. Anything. Are we just giving up? She looked around to the others. Miya looked ready to jump in, but the others, dragons included, either refused to meet her gaze or showed no support. She wouldn’t hurt anyone, right? Wait, no, she tried to gouge my eyes out when we first let her out.
“Fine,” Olivia mumbled. Ben let go of her arm, teleporting to the door to check outside.
“Bastards. Just teleporting in and out without a word of warning,” muttered Miya as she joined Olivia. “Fuck them.”
“No fuckin’ kiddin’,” said Rob. His eyes lit up, and he pointed to Amanda. “Hey, Ben said somethin’ ‘bout you detectin’ Freedom Fighter’s power with black magic, right?” Amanda nodded slowly. “Notice anythin’ when those fuckers teleported in?”
Amanda’s eye widened. “I have no idea. Let’s find out!” She rolled over to another computer, Rob hovering over her shoulder.
Olivia stomped over to the table as the others dispersed. Chris would know what to do, she thought as she sat down. Miya passed by behind her, heading towards the fridge between two wooden cabinets on the floor.
“Want something?” Miya asked Olivia.
Food. “Yes please. Just… anything,” she replied.
Miya grabbed an apple for herself. She passed Olivia a package of sliced ham as she sat beside her. The moment she slid a claw through the plastic wrapping, Beth’s head swiveled in her direction from her corner in the lair. Olivia frowned. Get your own. Cyrus took a seat across the table from Miya and Olivia.
“You two seem down,” he commented.
“We lost a friend yesterday. Or was it the day before that? Shit,” said Miya with a grimace and a shake of her head.
No one ever seems to care. “Why do you care?” asked Olivia, the question coming out harsher than she’d intended.
Cyrus raised an eyebrow. “You forget, Chris worked under me, along with Amanda over there, for half a year in the MHU. I tried to keep tabs on them as best I could, before…”
“Before Marcus dicked you over?” said Miya.
“Hrm?” You don’t remember? A small smile formed at the corners of his mouth. “Ah yes, that.”
“You’ve lived basically forever,” said Miya, “How do you deal with it?”
“You remember them as best you can,” replied Cyrus.
Miya nodded as she bit her lip. “That’s what Bob, that one officer, told me. Sounds so easy.”
“Give it time,” said Cyrus.
“You always know what to do, don’t you?” said Olivia, some resentment creeping into her voice in spite of herself. Thousands of years. I have two months, and you get thousands of years.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“No, sorry I just… I can never remember what I’m supposed to do.” Hank and Red and Beth and me keep fighting and I don’t know how to make it stop.
His gaze grew distant. “I… can’t, not truly. Bits and pieces, nothing more. I can remember what happened, not actually being there. It’s more like reading it out of a dry book, the details from it half remembered, than reading it. I know I had a wife, I can barely remember what she looked like,” he said, his voice cracking towards the end.
“So all those things you said to Slim Jim,” began Olivia. About fighting legions and Mongols and stuff?
“Could be true,” said Cyrus, finishing her sentence. “From what I can remember, what I said seems likely.” He shook his head. “The human mind was not meant to exist this long.”
“Wait, Taauth is like you too, isn’t he?” asked Miya as she sat up in her chair.
“I spent several centuries as an acne ridden teen,” he said, one hand stroking his beard. “They’re about a year for me, and I assume the same for him.”
“How does Taauth remember how to do anything, then?” asked Miya. “From what I know, the different schools of magic are radically different from one another. You can’t just tell it to go, there’s a lot of subtleties to it. All the different types of magic is like stuffing you head full of every textbook.” I can barely even get it to work.
“That is a good question. He was old when he came to rule Babylon. And he was always powerful, very powerful.” Cyrus grimaced. “I can’t remember much, I’m sorry.” Olivia resisted the urge to wrap a wing around him.
“How did you even kill him, then?” asked Miya.
“We surprised him. I crushed his head before it could reform as three of my king’s mages slowly disintegrated his body. It took four days.”
“You can remember that?” asked Olivia. I want to remember stuff.
“No, that’s an educated guess. Why so much interest in Taauth? I would have thought the twins would have had more interest.”
“He sounds terrifying,” replied Miya. “Whenever Rob or Amanda mention Overlord, they almost sound scared. He is, or was, the boogeyman of techies. He could take their whole life’s work and use it to make screaming terror-bots. This guy sounds like what Overlord was trying to do.”
Cyrus sat up straighter. “Repeat that?”
“What? I don’t know. Taauth sounds like he can do what Overlord was trying to do. Control magic, absolutely.” Olivia wrapped a wing around Miya’s shoulders as her voice grew quiet. It’s OK, he’s gone now.
Cyrus frowned. “So that’s what Taauth was afraid of.”
Miya managed a shaky laugh. “I bet. It’s kind of funny that you don’t already know everything.”
Cyrus roared with laughter for a moment. How is that funny? “I am not all knowing. In fact, I am not a smart or cunning man at all. I would more say I’m a very average man who has been alive for far too long. But I have taken up too much of your time.” He stood and left a slip of paper on the table. “If you need to contact me, call this number. If I don’t answer, just leave a message, I’ll get to it within a day at the most.”
“You’re leaving?” asked Miya. All of a sudden?
“Yes. I wasn’t lying to Smith. I do have places I need to be, Taauth will only get harder to stop as time goes on. In any event, I cannot thank you enough for your help.”
Olivia looked around the lair. No one else besides Hank paid any attention, though Hank sneered and turned away once she looked at him.
“Yeah, sure,” replied Miya. “Any time, I guess.”
Cyrus smiled and slipped outside.
Miya let out a deep breath. “Oh thank god. I couldn’t tell if he was going to get bored and flatten us or not.”
“He wasn’t that bad,” said Olivia with a frown. “People keep saying that about me, too.”
“True, true.” Miya yawned. “I’m still tired and sore,” she said. “I’m honestly thinking of just passing out for a while.”
Olivia shrugged. Reading doesn’t sound bad at all. Without a word, they headed off to the curtained off area. Miya collapsed on her bed. Olivia felt sleep overcome her as she lay in the soft beanbag, the scratched tablet falling from her hands.
Olivia awoke to hissing. No, let me sleep. The hissing continued. But… sleep. She grimaced and climbed to her feet, taking in the sight of Red and Beth squaring off against each other near the food. Before she had to intervene, Beth backed off, backing away towards the long table. Oh, hey, they didn’t fight. Olivia looked down at her beanbag. I could go back to sleep. It’s so comfy. But… food.
Once it didn’t look like another fight was about to break out, Rob and Amanda returned to whatever it is they had been working on lately. Olivia thought she recognized some of the railgun parts, but they could have been for something completely different for all she knew. Olivia ignored Red as she grabbed breakfast and sat at the table.
What do you want? She glanced down at her hands, where her claws had dug into the plastic of the table. She relaxed and eyed Beth as she sat across from her. Beth kept her head down and claws curled up. Not hissing, not a threat. Olivia opted for silence, with only Beth’s tail swishing along on the concrete floor to break it.
“Hey,” said Beth after a few minutes.
Did I do something? “Hi.” That’s what she was saying, right?
“How’s it going?”
“Good, I guess.”
The conversation dropped off for a few silent moments. “So,” began Beth. “You’re, like, the original, right? Like, with the wings and stuff?”
“So you can’t remember much either?”
Olivia shook her head.
“How far back can you remember, then?”
“Two months. Wait, it’s the end of June, two and a half.” Why do you care?
Beth looked down at her clawed hands. “But you know more about all this stuff than me. So, like, what exactly is different about us?” she asked.
“Um, well, you can fly. It’s fun!” Olivia sat up straighter in her chair, wings relaxed. I need to go flying again soon. Maybe I could bring the others along!
“These aren’t useless? Yes!” said Beth, cracking a smile.
“Yeah, if you do it right, you can go almost as fast as a car,” explained Olivia. “Landing is kind of annoying, though.” Stupid feet.
“So I can just flap my wings and go?”
Olivia shook her head. “No. I jumped off a building my first time. It takes practice.”
Beth laughed. “Wow. That’s one way to do it.”
“Yeah,” agreed Olivia. That was kind of dumb, looking back. Oh well. “It’s really fun. Do you want to learn?”
“Sure,” said Beth.
“We have to wait for night. Because, you know, people don’t like us.” They freak out, usually.
“Yeah, feral. Fuck,” said Beth, her smile slipping away. “And my ears keep giving me trouble. They’re going to drive me insane, I swear.”
“My ears are kind of messed up, too,” said Olivia. “Sometimes there’s this annoying ringing sound in them. People keep shooting guns and stuff next to my ears. It hurts. But it gets better. Once you figure out what it is you’re hearing. Oh, yeah, we’re kind of bulletproof. They still hurt, but they don’t really break skin.”
Beth looked down at her arm for a moment. “Seriously?” Olivia nodded. Why would I lie? “Wait, how did you figure out you’re, or we’re, bulletproof?”
“I got shot.”
Beth stared. “What? Why? What did you do?”
“They shot me. They were mean.”
“They, who is they?”
“Some mercenary guys,” replied Olivia.
After a dumbfounded moment, Beth said, “Every answer just leads to more questions.”
“I know, I’m weird.”
Rob and Amanda walked over together, both huddled over a tablet in Amanda’s hands.
“Think that’ll work?” asked Rob.
“It should. Let’s give it a shot after food,” replied Amanda. “How are you two?” she asked as she sat next to Olivia as Rob went off to the cupboards.
“Just chatting,” replied Beth. “Where is everyone else?”
“Hank is sulking somewhere, Miya’s talking with Red out back. Something about magic. Oh yeah, and I think Ben is with them,” replied Amanda. Oh, they moved.
“What did you say? Magic?” asked Beth with a disbelieving smile on her face.
“Didn’t know?” said Rob as he returned, protein bars in hand. “Miya thinks you and Olivia and the others can use magic.”
“No, no that was never mentioned,” said Beth, shooting a glance at Olivia.
“Sorry.” I was going to get to that.
“So what were you two chatting about?” asked Amanda.
“Just us,” replied Olivia.
“Like, what we can do,” added Beth.
“Oh, the flyin’ an’ strength an’ stuff like that,” said Rob.
“Strength you say,” said Beth, shooting another look at Olivia.
“Sorry, there’s a lot of stuff,” said Olivia.
“Seriously, so much,” muttered Beth.
“Right, yeah!” said Rob, jumping out of his chair. He jogged over to his work area. “Here, bend this,” he said as he returned. He passed her an inch thick bar of steel. Rather than taking the bar, she cast him a doubting look. “Trust me,” he added.
She took it, grasping both ends of the bar. With a look of concentration, she pushed, bending the bar a few inches. “Wow,” she said, holding it in front of her. “I didn’t think I could do that.”
“Damn it,” said Rob as he took the bar back.
“Why did you ask her to bend it, then?” asked Olivia.
“Just testin’. I’m tryin’ to make somethin’ you lot can’t bend. Gotta have a goal, after all,” Rob called over his shoulder. He tossed the bar over to the work area, where it hit the ground with a sharp clang.
“OK, Beth, I need your opinion on something,” said Amanda. She twirled her tablet around, showing Olivia and Beth a picture of a jaguar lounging on the bank of a river. “Do you think this is cute?”
Of course it is, how could it be anything else. Beth considered the picture for a moment before saying, “Now that you say it, I guess so.” Olivia gave her a small smile. See guys, it’s not weird.
Rob and Amanda exchanged glances as he took a seat beside her. “I got an idea,” he said, commandeering the tablet. “For both of you. Here’s an enormous grizzly bear. Same question.”
“Oh my gosh!” said Olivia, clasping her hands in front of her. “It’s so fat and furry and cute!”
Beth glanced at her before saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s kind of cute.”
“And, give me a sec,” said Rob. “This pack of snarling wolves?”
“Yes! Those are even better. But… why do they look so mad?” I want one. And a jaguar. I want both.
“They’re wolves,” said Beth. “That’s what they do.” Her gaze flickered between Rob and Amanda. “Right?” But, just look at them.
Rob nodded. “Come on, one of them has blood on its muzzle,” said Amanda.
“Yeah, but they don’t look that threatening.”
“You’re funny,” said Rob. Yeah, well, you’re short.
A series of hisses and snarls caught their attention. No, no, no. She looked over just in time to see Hank drive an elbow into the center of Red’s chest. What are you doing? Why? She grunted and took a swing at his head, aiming for his throat. Her claws glanced off his chin, failing to hook into anything.
Ben teleported over to them. “Hey, hey, break it up!” He ducked under Hank’s backhanded blow.
“Enough!” roared Olivia as she advanced. Beth hissed behind her.
Right as Hank whirled around to face her, she wrapped an arm around his midsection, lifted him off his feet, and threw him face first to the ground. He let out a snarl as he tried to get up, cut short by a stomp to his back. His claws curled in as he gasped for air.
“All of you,” Olivia sapt as she turned on Red and Beth. “Stop fighting. I’m tired of it.”
She let out a hiss of frustration and she stomped away, her tail smacking against the back of Hank’s head. The lair was silent beyond Hank’s labored breathing. Stupid, stupid, stupid.